There's nothing like a good row

Some of the arguments we've been having online and introducing our new blogger

It’s always compelling watching other people having a bit of a spat and I’d like to flag up two examples from newstatesman.com this week.

One was the argument sparked by Tahmima Anam’s article on Bangladesh. Some attacked her for belittling her country when she now lives in the UK, others jumped in to defend her right to speak out.

One critic wrote: "Since she appears so enamoured of the comforts of Britain it is better you stay there. Fighting for your country is hard work but soiling those precious manicured hands does not seem to appeal to Tahmima."

I say!

Fortunately plenty of other comments defended Tahmima’s right to hold an opinion. For example: "I find some of the comments here quite appalling … as soon as anyone writes anything against the politicians, the author is automatically branded as unpatriotic."

Elsewhere, Bristol student union president Ben Ullman’s view Campus Radicals that higher education shouldn’t be free provoked quite a bit of comment. People posted from universities up and down the country – some of the students clearly putting quite a lot of time into expressing their arguments. This is a continuing debate and it’s interesting to hear the current generation of students talking about these issues.

Anyone out there in favour of raising the upper rate of taxation, scrapping the national curriculum, bringing back O-levels, reintroducing grants and getting rid of the poll tax?

Can’t pay, won’t pay! Oh, how it takes me back.

Moving swiftly on, next week we’re launching a new blog. Remember the story a few days back about an American family securing one of two rarely available cottages on Fair Isle? Well, the people who got the other one were a young Scottish couple. The male half, Malachy Tallach, is a journalist and singer song-writer …

He emailed me the other day and suggested he write us a column. Good idea, I said rubbing my hands and thinking of some of the scenes in the Wickerman.

Well, he’s sent in his first entry and it’s a great read - the story of remote place with a population of around 70, many of them crofters.

So look out for it next week and learn what Malachy’s life on this Scottish island is like. Though so far, alas, it doesn't seem to have much in common with the celebrated movie...

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.
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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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